Spring is officially here, and unfortunately we’re staying as close to home as we were this time last year. The good thing is that there’s plenty to do in the spring at home–especially in the garden.
Carilion Clinic’s Community Health and Outreach team believes so strongly in the benefits of gardening that they built an urban farm and community garden in Roanoke’s Morningside Park, a food desert.
Gardening offers the same benefits to all, whether you’re tending an expanse of raised beds or watering a single flowerpot on a small apartment balcony.
Gardening provides a variety of physical benefits, including:
- Exercise: Digging, planting and weeding are moderate in intensity and low in impact, which makes gardening an ideal exercise for seniors and people with disabilities or chronic conditions that make more vigorous exercise difficult.
- Vitamin D: Many of us feel sluggish and even a bit down after a winter spent indoors. Part of that may be due to a deficiency in vitamin D, which our bodies naturally synthesize after 10-20 minutes in the morning or late afternoon sun. Sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat are a must if you’re going to be out any longer than that, or if you’re out in the sun at midday at all.
- Fresh, healthy foods: This is a particularly enjoyable benefit, especially when you’ve planted your favorite fruits and vegetables!
Feeling good has a mental and emotional component as well, which gardening can improve in various ways, including:
- Slowing down: You can’t get your hands dirty in a garden if you are holding a smartphone. Gardening requires unplugging, slowing down and resuming a pace set by nature rather than technology.
- Socializing: Working a plot at your local community garden is a great way to make friends and strengthen neighborhoods. Just be sure to maintain the recommended distance of at least 6 feet apart.
- Anti-socializing: Many people find themselves refreshed by the solitude of working in their garden too. If you and others in your household are feeling a need for personal space these days, the garden is a great place to find it.
- Creativity: Gardening is never finished, so you can never fail at it. That gives you freedom to experiment with different seeds, soils and schedules. Have fun with it!
Benefits to Others
There is a special joy that comes from helping others, for which gardening provides ample opportunity. Trading your extra harvest with neighbors is a time-honored tradition, and teaching children the basics of gardening can set them on a healthy path.
In addition to gardening’s many benefits, there are a few cautions to be aware of.
Protection from the sun is the most important. Sunscreen, long sleeves and sun-hats are essential gardening supplies.
Wear gloves to avoid bug bites or anything sharp in the soil. Soil-related infections can happen if you have open cuts, a particular concern for those with compromised immune systems.
And for those with arthritis or joint challenges, raised beds will be easier to tend than traditional ground-level beds. Most community gardens have raised beds available for users.
Pace your gardening activities over several days to weeks, as overworked joints can become painful and debilitating.
If you’re interested in gardening but not sure where to start, the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service website is a great resource. And if you don’t have seeds or plants, you can order them online from many nurseries. The Virginia Native Plant Society has a list or you can search google for one that offers what you’re looking for. Happy planting!